BOSTON — His health care plan in peril, President Barack Obama planned a last-minute campaign trip to Massachusetts for Democrat Martha Coakley on Sunday as polls showed her struggling in an unexpectedly close race against Republican Scott Brown to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy's Senate seat.
Vice President Joe Biden, trying to turn the focus of the race away from the president's embattled health care bill, joined the fray, sending an e-mail to Democrats assailing the Republican candidate for opposing Obama's just-announced plan to tax large Wall Street firms.
The late-game White House aggressiveness reflected a sudden deep concern among Democrats that they could lose a seat the party has controlled for more than half a century — and with it, the 60th Senate vote that is all that has kept alive the health care overhaul that Obama has spent his entire first year pushing toward passage.
Democrats control 60 votes in the Senate, enough to thwart a Republican filibuster of Obama's near-complete health care plan. If Coakley wins, she has said, she will vote, as Kennedy did, with the 57 other Democrats and the two independents who side with them. Brown has made clear that he would vote against the health care plan, which all other Republicans oppose, giving Senate Republicans the 41st vote they need to block the legislation.
"If Scott Brown wins, it'll kill the health bill," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.
Secretary of State William Galvin, Massachusetts' top election official, said certifying Tuesday's results could take more than two weeks, maybe enough time for Democrats to push Obama's signature legislation through Congress before Brown could take office. Sen. Paul Kirk Jr., the interim appointee to Kennedy's seat, says he will vote for the bill if given the chance.
On Thursday, a Suffolk University survey signaled a possible death knell for the 60-vote Senate supermajority the president has been relying upon to pass his health care bill and other initiatives through Congress.
The poll showed Brown, a Republican state senator, with 50 percent of the vote. Coakley had 46 percent. That amounted to a statistical tie, since the numbers were within the poll's 4.4 percentage point margin of error. It was a far cry from the 15-point lead that Coakley, the state's attorney general, enjoyed in a Boston Globe survey released last weekend.
On Friday, Republican and Democratic heavyweights — including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former President Bill Clinton — campaigned for both candidates.